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Writer vs. Poet: Courtenay Schembri Gray

Courtenay began writing at a very young age, drawn to the craft without conscious intention. A lifelong reader, Courtney could often be found sitting on the floor of bookshops, immersing themselves in literature. At the age of eighteen, Courtenay self-published their first collection of poetry, "Top Hat & Time Tales," followed by "Cherry" two years later. Their third collection, "Strawberry," was published by Alien Buddha Press, but it is their latest collection, "The Maggot on Maple Street," that she believes to be their magnum opus. This collection was put together with the help of Cody Sexton at Anxiety Press, who handled the design and layout, allowing her to focus solely on their poetry. A huge fan of Sylvia Plath's work, she was introduced to Plath's poetry ten years ago, and they believe that the poems in "The Maggot on Maple Street" and their current works will establish her as a notable name in poetry. Let's go get to know her!

Hi, Courtenay. Glad to have you here. Let us begin with your book. What is it about? What was your approach writing it?

I believe in the organic approach when it comes to writing. I feel that everything has become so constricted within a space that discusses art. Our art is no science, so all this talk of technique and honing is fruitless. I am a big champion of not editing your work except for grammar/punctuation. If a story has been written, that is it. If you change it, it’s a completely different story. I am very adamant about not changing my work. If it has been sent out, then it should be clear its current state is how I like it. I resent this notion that someone else can make a piece better. It’s nonsense, quite frankly. This doesn’t have anything to do with the myth of a writer’s ego, rather to do with artistic integrity. Lots of writers turn to Stephen King’s On Writing, but that book in particular is a lot of rehashed workshop advice that is just not relevant. I think the mistake a lot of new writers make is listening to other people. They put so much stock into the opinions of so-called professionals that they are uprooted from their own prose.

What is Transgression in writing in your opinion? Is it something you incorporate in your writings?

Transgressive writing has become a bit of a piñata for edgy writing reminiscent of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. It’s ironic, really, when you consider the textbook definition of transgressive fiction being about people straying from societal norms in illicit or unusual ways. Nobody likes a rule breaker. It seems to me as though fighting the system equals mindlessly complaining. As for my approach toward transgressive writing, I don’t think about it all that often. I do believe that you should aim to ruffle feathers with your work. If not one person has their back up about something you’ve written, you’re not doing your job. This stuff has to mean something somewhere.

Interesting approach, As a writer I find it difficult sometimes to write certain scene including specific elements. Can you discuss your most difficult time writing a scene? What was that scene about?

I don’t tend to have that much difficulty, but I also dabble in playwriting. That is quite a challenge when your main source of storytelling is dialogue. I geek out on imagery, so when confronted with only dialogue, I feel the weight of the English language on me.

Lucky you. I personally struggled a lot writing a various scenes in my upcoming dark romance duology. So, about marketing and sales as another struggle for authors. What’s your approach toward book marketing?

I keep up to date with all relevant platforms. I am smart when it comes to book marketing. I know a lot of writers grumble about having to promote themselves, but if you really love the work, it shouldn’t be an issue. You can’t order from a takeaway blind, so why should a reader be expected to? While a consumer should have an open mind, the creator must give a little taste. If you make a big deal about self-promotion publicly, people are less likely to buy your stuff. It almost seems like you’re trying to hide something. Inject a bit of enthusiasm into talking about your work.

May I know what you could do to maximize reader engagement?

There’s probably always something more I could do, but when one factors in the politics of the writing scene, things become far more tricky. There are things that go on behind the scenes that aren’t as obvious to other people. As authors, we are essentially door to door salespeople.

Last question following this is that how do you remain innovative in your writing?

It’s not a goal of mine to be innovative. I like to try new things, but I tend to write what I want and hope people follow. I have to be happy with what I put out, otherwise there is really no point. Personally, I believe I do things in a unique way, and I hope to be known as a trailblazer, but I don’t consciously think about doing so.

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Courtenay for this interview.

If you'd like to know more about her, please follow these links:

Twitter: @courtenaywrites Instagram: @courtenaywrites Substack: US Book Link:

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